Pep Guardiola believes he has already completed the main challenge of his tenure at Manchester City.

City are 17 points behind runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool heading into Sunday's trip to Arsenal, with any realistic hopes of a third straight title already extinguished.

As a result, an increasing focus has been placed upon their manager's future over recent weeks.

Guardiola is in his fourth season at the Etihad Stadium, meaning he is set to equal his joint-longest tenure at a club, having led Barcelona from 2008-09 until the end of 2011-12.

The former Bayern Munich boss denied reports this week that his contract at City, which expires in 2021, has a break clause at the end of this term and has spoken of potentially staying beyond his current deal.

Nevertheless, he does not think trying to re-establish dominance in England, where City have won five of the past six major trophies and back-to-back Community Shields, would be as big a challenge as implementing his famed style of quick-passing positional play successfully at the Etihad Stadium.

"The challenge is done for me – to come here and try to play like we did in Barcelona and Bayern Munich," he said.

"That was the big challenge and, in the end, in England we were able to play the way that we wanted to play and we won enough titles.

"Considering the difficulty of this league, seven titles in three seasons is not bad.

"Now the challenge is to maintain what we did in the beginning and we have struggled a little bit, especially because we have an opponent who has not dropped points. If they had dropped points we would be closer but we are incredibly far away.

"Now the target is to win the next games - focus in the cups and try to win games in the Premier League."

A 4-1 Champions League victory at Dinamo Zagreb in midweek saw City bounce back from a chastening 2-1 derby defeat to Manchester United last weekend and Guardiola feels this season's indifferent form can become an important part of the club's development.

"I think maintaining 100, 98 points for three or four years… I knew it [would be difficult]," Guardiola said.

"When we arrived here, the standard was 85, 90 points to win. Now you have to reach almost 100 points to win the Premier League.

"With the help of Liverpool, we made that step and now it is the level you have to reach. Before it didn't happen and we were the reason why.

"For 11 years no one did back-to-back [Premier League titles] and we did it, winning 14 games in a row [at the end of the season]. That's why, when the people say we are not good, I cannot forget what this team have done.

"Sometimes in the process, with NBA teams and incredible tennis players, always there are periods in the season where you struggle a little bit more. I would say that is more normal.

"The situation we are living right now as a club, as a team, will help us in the future. I would have preferred to be closer to Liverpool, but it is going to help us.

"Maybe after four titles in one season we believed we are something that we are not. The reality of sport means you have to make it again and again and again."

Guardiola concluded the analysis with a reading of his own future that could be viewed as more ambiguous than some of his other recent pronouncements.

"In the next games we will see how we are as a team and at the end of the season we have to evaluate if we are good enough, first as a manager to continue and then the players to continue next season," he added. "To analyse at the end is so simple."

Manchester City will be without Sergio Aguero and John Stones for this weekend's Premier League clash with Arsenal, Pep Guardiola has confirmed.

Aguero has missed City's past five matches because of a thigh injury and Stones limped off in last Saturday's 2-1 home defeat to Manchester United.

Neither player is fit to return for Sunday's trip to Emirates Stadium, while David Silva is also doubtful after sitting out training on Thursday and Friday.

"Stones has got a muscular injury. I don't know when he will be back," Guardiola said at his pre-match news conference. "Sergio still hasn't trained with the team.

"David is not fit. Yesterday and today he could not train so we'll see tomorrow. He got a kick in the leg - it was painful, but not a big issue."

Silva's potential absence could pave the way for Phil Foden to start for a second game running.

The 19-year-old was on the scoresheet in Wednesday's 4-1 Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb and Guardiola is prepared to show greater faith in the youngster.

"He has played 50 games and is 19 years old. In one of the top teams in Europe I don't know if there's anyone of his age who's played that many," Guardiola said.

"We're delighted with him and he'll play incredible games in the future. We're so happy with the way he played - it was an incredible experience for him.

"Maybe not all 50 games are 90 minutes, but he's been involved in tough games - Tottenham last season, Atalanta, we trust him a lot. 

"Every season he's playing more minutes and one day, maybe not that far away, he'll be a player who will play every weekend. We'll see when."

City trail Premier League leaders Liverpool by 14 points ahead of their showdown with Arsenal, who sacked head coach Unai Emery last month.

Freddie Ljungberg has won only one of his four matches in interim charge, but Guardiola is expecting a "big test" in north London.

"The club decided on a person who had a long time at the club many years ago, someone who knows the feelings, the fans, the way they like to play," Guardiola said.

"We'll have to figure out what they'll try to do - normally they have a typical style of play. They have quality between the lines. Arsenal away is always a big test for any team."

Asked about the ongoing speculation linking his assistant Mikel Arteta with the Arsenal job, Guardiola replied: "You can be 45 years old and not be ready or 35 years old and be ready.

"Only he knows. I spoke about it two weeks ago. He's got two weeks more experience since then, so he's ready."

Pep Guardiola has congratulated Jurgen Klopp on his new deal at Liverpool and has vowed to see out his own Manchester City contract.

Liverpool announced on Friday that Klopp has agreed fresh terms at Anfield to keep him in place for another four-and-a-half years.

Guardiola's long-term future appears less clear, though, amid reports his existing deal contains a break clause that will allow him to walk away at the end of the season.

However, the Catalan coach, who last month stated he is open to staying on beyond the end of his contract in June 2021, denied any truth to the rumours.

"It's not true," he said at Friday's pre-match news conference ahead of this weekend's Premier League trip to Arsenal. 

"I talked about it a few weeks ago, my intentions for the club."

Guardiola has been involved in a tussle with Klopp for major honours in recent seasons and is pleased the Liverpool boss has secured his future.

"Congratulations to him and Liverpool for five more years here in England - he deserves it," Guardiola said. 

"I think it is really good for the Premier League that he can continue here."

City have already dropped as many points in the Premier League this term as they did in the whole of 2018-19, leading to suggestions they are looking to recruit in January.

Nathan Ake is among those to have been linked with a move to the defending champions, but Guardiola reiterated he is happy with his current crop of players.

"The players that started the season are going to finish the season," he said. "If something happens it will be in the summer, not winter."

Murmurs about Pep Guardiola's potential departure from Manchester City are not going away.

Recent reports have suggested the successful Catalan could look to leave the Etihad Stadium at the end of the season.

It now appears Guardiola has the power to make that happen.

 

TOP STORY – GUARDIOLA'S ESCAPE ROUTE

An exit clause in the contract Guardiola signed last year gives the two-time Premier League winner the chance to leave City at the conclusion of the campaign, reports the Daily Mail.

Guardiola's deal, which he renewed in May 2018, runs through to 2021, but it seems he will have a decision to make when the club's title defence comes to a close.

City have formulated contingency plans, according to the report, and are "known to be admirers" of former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.

Guardiola, 48, has been linked with a return to Bayern Munich but last month said he was "open" to signing another contract extension with City.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United missed out on Liverpool-bound Takumi Minamino because the Old Trafford club were unaware of a £7.25million exit clause in the winger's Salzburg contract, says the Mirror.

- Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund want to keep Jadon Sancho in January but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United are confident of pushing through a transfer for the England international, claims the Mirror.

- Inter are monitoring Argentine attacking midfielder Rodrigo De Paul but are not prepared to meet Udinese's €35m asking price, according to CalcioMercato.

- Carlo Ancelotti is set to fly to London for talks with Everton as the managerless Merseysiders look to beat Arsenal to the ex-Napoli boss, says the Sun.

- Ivan Rakitic appears set to stay at Barcelona after all. The midfielder wants to continue at Camp Nou after breaking back into the starting XI over the past four matches, reports Marca.

Rodri has described "fearsome" Liverpool as the best team he has faced but warned the Premier League leaders that Manchester City will not give up their title without a fight.

Liverpool have opened a 14-point gap on the defending champions, who have already dropped as many points this term as they did in the whole of 2018-19 when the Reds finished second.

Third-placed City head to Arsenal on Sunday for their next league outing and Rodri, used 14 times in the top flight this season, has urged his team-mates to focus on the task at hand.

The Spain international, who played a full part in last month's 3-1 defeat at Anfield, told Goal: "On an individual basis I can say that Liverpool are the best team I have faced.

"They dominate at both ends of the field and are very aggressive. They dominate the lines well and that makes them a fearsome team.

"They are very good, but anyone can beat them so we are going to fight until the end.

"I don't know if the goal is to beat Liverpool, who are European champions, as I think you always have to focus on yourself.

"If we focus on Liverpool too much we are wrong. We would better looking at ourselves and play as we did at Atletico under [Diego] Simeone, game by game.

"You can't stop competing and that's what [Pep] Guardiola instils in us every day, that every game is a final."

Rodri spent one season with Simeone at Atletico Madrid prior to making a reported £62.8million switch to the Etihad Stadium, where he is working under Guardiola.

Asked how the two coaches compare, Rodri said both have the characteristics of "winners" and added: "Simeone is consistency and perseverance. Guardiola is innovative, growing day by day."

Dani Olmo is a top player with a bright future who can play at the highest level of European football, according to Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Dinamo Zagreb forward Olmo has been linked with a move to City, while Roma and Milan have also been credited with an interest in his services.

Barcelona are thought to be keen on bringing Olmo back to the club, having signed him to their famed academy as a nine-year-old in 2007.

His time in the Barca youth set-up overlapped with Guardiola's glittering spell in charge of the Blaugrana, Spain international Olmo leaving for Dinamo in 2014.

Olmo was on target as he gave Dinamo the lead with a rasping close-range volley against City on Wednesday, only for the Premier League side to cruise to a 4-1 win, ending the Croatian club's hopes of progression from Champions League Group C.

Guardiola was asked in his post-match media conference if Olmo can be an expensive player in Europe, to which he replied: "He's a top player - he has a bright future, of course.

"His performance today shows it. About the transfer and the money he deserves, that is not the point. The point is he is an incredible player and I am pretty sure he is able to play in the strong leagues in Europe. Hopefully if Dinamo wants and he wants, it can happen."

City have now scored 500 goals under his stewardship, with Guardiola adding of that milestone: "It's nice - 500 times of joy. You know, when we score a goal, it's the best moment of this game, so we enjoy a lot.

"These four years together, overall we have had an incredible amount of fun moments, so it was nice. Hopefully we can score 500 more... in two months!"

Pep Guardiola had high praise for Phil Foden and Benjamin Mendy after both players impressed in Manchester City's Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

Gabriel Jesus scored a hat-trick as City, who were already sure to progress from Group C, came from a goal down to win 4-1 in Croatia and complete an unbeaten group-stage campaign, but Foden was the standout performer on his 50th appearance for the club.

When it was put to Guardiola in a news conference that Foden's display was "something else" for a 19-year-old, the City manager smiled and replied: "As always."

Guardiola added: "I think when he's close to the box he's more dangerous than when he's away from the box. I think he still has to learn a little bit when he plays a little bit away [from the box]... the tempo, the spaces.

"But when he plays close to the box and he can attack the central defenders, attack the goal, he's an incredibly dangerous player. So he played really well again. Really, really well."

Mendy has struggled for fitness and form during his time at City, but Guardiola was also impressed with the former Monaco defender's display, stating: "He played his best game of the season."

However, the former Barcelona coach refused to reveal whether Mendy can consider himself the Premier League champions' first-choice left-back, with Angelino and Oleksandr Zinchenko his other options.

"They have to fight... and I will decide," said Guardiola. "Angelino, when he played, especially at Anfield in a tough game, he was incredible. We know the quality from Oleks [Zinchenko], and of course Mendy has this physicality when he's fit and especially when his mind and his head is in the right position, he's an extraordinary player."

Dinamo finished bottom of the group as a result of their defeat, when a win would have earned them second place at Atalanta's expense.

Nevertheless, coach Nenad Bjelica said: "I am proud and happy for everything we showed in these six matches. We were fighting to go through until the last half of the group stage and we played against big clubs all the way."
 

Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan claimed a dip in the club's domestic form this season is "normal" after their exploits in recent years.

Premier League champions City trail leaders Liverpool by 14 points after defeat in the Manchester derby on Saturday.

Third-placed City's total of 32 points is also Pep Guardiola's worst points return after the first 16 matches of a top-flight season in his managerial career.

City briefly turn their attentions to a Champions League clash with Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday, having already qualified for the knockout stage as Group C winners.

However, league matters were not far from Gundogan's mind at a news conference ahead of their final European group-stage match.

"First of all, I think that it's nothing very unusual," Gundogan said of City's struggles.

"After having two great seasons, it's even tougher to perform the third one in a row. It's a challenge to stay on top and play the same kind of successful football every season.

"I think it's normal that we go through this period, and the only way out of it is to stick together [and for] every single player to take the responsibility to reach his best level again."

Gundogan vowed City's players would work hard to reignite their season, even though Guardiola has recognised it is "not realistic" to catch Liverpool.

"The sooner we can do it, the sooner we will be successful again. That's the challenge," the 29-year-old explained.

"It's normal, in football and in life. If you're successful and you've won so many things, sometimes you lose a little bit of focus.

"But the more defeats you get, the more you recognise that's not the way you want to end up. you want to improve again and get to the level you already were.

"I think we all want to be successful and we all want to reach for the best, because the potential is definitely there."

Gundogan acknowledged City's form has hit morale but claimed they have a strong mindset to overcome such setbacks.

"Of course, there's a lack of confidence when you lose game and you recognise you didn't play as well as you could play," he added.

"I think we are strong, especially mentally. We should be able to do our best in every single game.

"The game starts from zero. It's just about improving ourselves and putting in a good performance on the pitch to try to win the game."

Pep Guardiola remains convinced Phil Foden has the ability to become the heartbeat of the Manchester City team after David Silva leaves the club.

Silva, 33, has already confirmed his intention to depart City at the end of the season when his contract expires, bringing a 10-year spell at the club to a close.

The Spaniard has become a City icon, with many of the opinion he has been the Premier League's greatest foreign import, enjoying great success and consistency.

He has mostly been kept back for Premier League action this term, making only two appearances in the Champions League, and he will be missing again for Wednesday's trip to Dinamo Zagreb, with Sergio Aguero and John Stones also absent.

"All three are injured," Guardiola confirmed to reporters on Tuesday. "David had a huge kick in the dangerous part of his leg and it is too much of a risk to play.

"John is out for the next weeks, Sergio is better but he is not ready."

Silva's absence means England Under-21 international Foden is likely to get a rare start.

The 19-year-old is highly rated at City and has shown glimpses of immense talent in his short career, but he has only been afforded 83 minutes of Premier League football this season.

Guardiola has been accused of underusing the midfielder, though he insists his faith in Foden is unwavering, confident he can be a key player once Silva leaves.

When asked if Foden will be the heartbeat of City's team from next season, Guardiola said: "That is our wish.

"Of course David is a legend – the amount of games, the amount of titles, but that is our wish and we believe he [Foden] can do it.

"He can do it, in small spaces he is so good, Phil. He has this incredible quality for the first reception in small spaces – also the box to box, like a typical English player. He will get the minutes he needs at his age right now.

"Always he has a good impact coming from the bench. Some players don't have an impact coming from the bench, always I have that feeling from Phil.

"Against Atalanta we believed he could play an incredible game and he did it. Alongside him are Rodri, [Ilkay] Gundogan, Kevin [De Bruyne] – many players, but I never doubt about him [Foden]. Whether he plays 90 minutes, 20 minutes or not one single minute, the confidence is always there."

Another highly rated prospect will face City in the form of Dani Olmo, whom Guardiola jokingly suggested was one of hundreds of players the Premier League champions want to buy.

"We want to buy 100 players every month," he quipped. "One of them is Olmo. We'll see.

"He's an incredible surprise, he came from Barcelona's academy and it's not easy to come here [Zagreb], and with the Spain Under-21s he was one of the best players.

"So, maybe it's the last year or one of the last years he's here, then he'll go to one of the big clubs to compete for a big name. I'm so glad for him, he's doing so well in this league and the Champions League – the future is in his hands."

Barcelona will find it impossible to replace Lionel Messi, according to club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who added Pep Guardiola would always be welcome back at Camp Nou.

Messi followed up winning a record sixth Ballon d'Or by recording his 35th LaLiga hat-trick in Barca's 5-2 win over Real Mallorca on Saturday.

Despite spending big on Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong in the most recent transfer window, Barca are still heavily reliant on the 32-year-old, who has scored 14 goals from 15 appearances in all competitions this term.

Bartomeu has acknowledged Barca will find it extremely difficult to replace Messi whenever the forward calls time on his stay at the club, but outlined their intention to continue developing young talent from the famed La Masia academy. 

"We Barca fans have the good fortune to enjoy Messi every three days," Bartomeu, who plans to offer Messi a "lifetime contract" told Italian publication La Repubblica.

"Leo is impossible to replace and when he will be here no more, we will be forced to play differently. I cannot say that we are already preparing for post-Messi, but it is true that we have already decided to bet on young players for a long time.

"For now, what we have to do is not worry, but enjoy it. I would like to make him an annuity contract as we have already done with [Andres] Iniesta. He has earned the right to decide when to say enough is enough.

"As a footballer, Messi is number one and we will fully understand it only in a few years, because Leo has changed not only the history of Barca, but that of world football."

Bartomeu also confirmed Guardiola - who left Barca in 2012 after four trophy-laden seasons in charge before going on to coach Bayern Munich and now Manchester City, will always have a home at Barca, should he wish to return. 

"A possible return of Guardiola? It doesn't depend on me," he added. 

"It was Pep who decided to leave, but for him the doors of Barca are always open." 

Liverpool maintained their charge for a first Premier League title with a 3-0 win over Bournemouth, keeping just a third top-flight clean sheet of the season in the process.

The Reds remain eight points ahead of Leicester City, who saw off Aston Villa 4-1 to make it eight league victories in a row – their best winning run in their top-flight history.

But defending champions Manchester City are now 14 points adrift of top spot after tasting defeat in their derby showdown with a rejuvenated Manchester United.

Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho made it three league wins out of four as Tottenham thrashed Burnley to close to within six points of fourth-placed Chelsea, who lost 3-1 at Everton.

There were also wins for Newcastle United and Sheffield United, against Southampton and Norwich City respectively, while Watford played out a goalless draw with Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion took a point off Wolves.

Our Premier League Data Diary sheds some light on the detail behind the big stories of this weekend's games.

DERBY DEFEAT LEAVES GUARDIOLA WITH LOWEST POINTS HAUL

Pep Guardiola admitted City could not cope with the pace of United's attacking trio of Daniel James, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in Saturday's clash.

City fell two goals behind inside half an hour and, despite Nicolas Otamendi pulling one back late on, they fell to a defeat that surely ends their hopes of retaining the title.

The loss leaves the reigning champions with 32 points - the lowest return of Guardiola's managerial career after 16 matches.

Kyle Walker refused to wave the white flag, but no English top-flight side has ever gone on to win the title after being as many as 14 points behind the top side at the end of a day.

As for United, who beat Tottenham 2-1 on Wednesday, they are now unbeaten in five Premier League games and have won back-to-back matches for the first time since March.

CLEAN SHEET BONUS FOR RUNAWAY REDS

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp had extra reason to celebrate his side's win at Bournemouth, having kept a first clean sheet in 14 games in all competitions.

In fact, toothless Bournemouth - now beaten in five successive games for the first time in their top-flight history - managed zero shots on target at the Vitality Stadium.

Klopp's men have won 24 of their past 25 Premier League matches, including 15 out of 16 this term, and have scored two or more goals in 23 of those past 25 fixtures.

Naby Keita marked his first league start of the season with a goal and an assist, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Salah were also on target.

Salah's goal took him to 63 in 100 Premier League outings, with Alan Shearer (79), Ruud van Nistelrooy (68) and Sergio Aguero (64) the only players to score more in their first century of games.

SENSATIONAL SON INSPIRES MOURINHO'S FREE-SCORING MEN

Tottenham produced a five-star display in their emphatic triumph against Burnley, who suffered their joint-biggest margin of defeat in the Premier League.

Mourinho saw Tottenham score five goals in his fourth Premier League game in charge, something Manchester United failed to achieve in 93 league matches under the Portuguese.

Harry Kane bagged a brace, Lucas Moura scored a sitter and Moussa Sissoko netted for the second home game running, but it was Son Heung-min who stole the show.

Having earlier set up Kane's opener, Son ran from one box to the other and found the net to make it 15 goal involvements in 15 appearances at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Dele Alli may not have registered in the one-sided contest, though he provided two assists in a Premier League game for the third time and the first since December 2017.

VARDY CLOSING IN ON HIS OWN RECORD

Leicester appear to be the only side standing between Liverpool and a maiden Premier League title success after coming out on top in their Midlands tussle with Aston Villa.

Jamie Vardy helped himself to a couple of goals as the Foxes inflicted a heaviest home league defeat on Villa since they lost 4-0 to Chelsea in April 2016.

The 32-year-old became the first player to score in eight consecutive Premier League matches since Vardy himself did so in November 2015 when netting 11 in a row.

Only one player other than Vardy has scored in eight successive fixtures, in fact - Van Nistelrooy, who did so in 2002 and again in 2003 during his time at Manchester United.

Kelechi Iheanacho and Jonny Evans also registered at Villa Park for Leicester, who have won their past four away Premier League matches by an aggregate score of 17-1.

Pep Guardiola has questioned whether his Manchester City side are able to compete with the likes of Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The reigning Premier League champions fell 14 points behind leaders Liverpool on Saturday after suffering a 2-1 home defeat to rivals Manchester United.

City's defence was torn to shreds in the opening 30 minutes by United's attack, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial putting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side 2-0 up.

Nicolas Otamendi set up a grandstand finish with a late header, but City were unable to salvage anything from the game.

Despite dominating English football for the past two seasons and boasting an exceptional, expensive squad, Guardiola has suggested his side might be unable to go toe-to-toe with Europe's biggest clubs.

"This is the level we are facing, against Liverpool, [Manchester] United, Barcelona, [Real] Madrid and Juventus," he told reporters. "They are the teams we have to face, and the reality is maybe we're not able to compete with them.

"Okay, so we have to improve and accept it and move forward. I could come here and complain about many things; I have reasons to complain.

"Maybe we need as a club to accept the reality we have right now and improve."

Despite the points advantage Jurgen Klopp's side hold over City, Guardiola says he has no intention of throwing in the towel in his pursuit of a third Premier League title.

"The reality is we're 14 points behind because of the mistakes, the quality of the opponents and especially for the things we cannot control. That's the reality," he added.

"But we have to continue. We are at the beginning of December. We have other competitions to play, other games to fight and improve on that. Maybe it will help us for the future of the club; maybe we need that for the future to be better."

After being selected at left-back for the 4-1 win over Burnley on Tuesday, Angelino once again lined up in defence for the Manchester derby.

Guardiola says the Spaniard feels like a better fit for the position at present, suggesting Benjamin Mendy still needs more time to fully recover from two years of injury problems.

"In this moment Angelino feels better and plays better than the other one in that position," he explained.

Asked what Mendy needs, Guardiola said: "Time. After two years injured, it's not 'tac tac' [clicks fingers], where one week you're fit, and you play. You need time."

Pep Guardiola conceded Manchester City could not live with the pace of Manchester United's attacking players in Saturday's 2-1 derby defeat.

Visitors United constantly exposed their opponents on the counter at the Etihad Stadium, helping them move into a two-goal lead inside the opening half-hour.

Marcus Rashford won and then converted a penalty before Anthony Martial fired in a second after being picked out by Daniel James.

Guardiola talked up United's counter-attacking threat on the eve of the match, but the City head coach has admitted his side ultimately had no answer to the trio.

"I like how my team played," he said at his post-match news conference. "We conceded a little bit more space - not more than usual, but more than last year against United.

"We knew about the pace they have, with James, Martial and Rashford, but sometimes it is not possible to control it."

Nicolas Otamendi pulled a goal back for City five minutes from the end, but there was to be no comeback for the reigning champions as their title hopes were dealt another blow.

"In general, we did what we like," Guardiola added. "We arrived in the final third many, many, many, many times. 

"Unfortunately, we couldn't finish a little bit more, but I like to watch my team. I know nobody agrees but I like it."

Third-place City are now 14 points adrift of leaders Liverpool, who beat Bournemouth 3-0 earlier on Saturday, and travel to Arsenal for their next league outing.

The home loss means Guardiola has the lowest points tally after 16 games of a season in his senior coaching career, but he is not surprised by the drop-off in form since last term.

"Sometimes it happens," he added. "Sometimes you don't win and the others are better and you lose. Normal is not winning the league always, sometimes you lose.

"It is important not to give up and try to do what we do as a team. All the games we play a season we play the game I want my team to play. 

"After that, the counter-attacks, the final third, when we struggle in some departments okay, it's part of the process. Maybe next season we will be better."

Pep Guardiola vowed Manchester City would not surrender in the Premier League title race despite falling 14 points behind leaders Liverpool.

A 2-1 home defeat to neighbours Manchester United leaves City not only adrift of Jurgen Klopp's pace-setters but also three points shy of second-placed Leicester City, who have a game in hand.

City must string together victory after victory and hope for a Liverpool collapse to stand any hope of defending their crown.

Although a City charge to glory is unlikely, manager Guardiola is not giving up hope - but nor does he want to become overly occupied by the situation.

"It's not time to think about [the title race]," Guardiola told Sky Sports.

"We have to think about what we have to do and think about the next game. It doesn't matter if it's six points, eight or 14, we have to continue. We are a fantastic team."

City were swamped by United's attacking waves in the first half-hour at the Etihad Stadium, where a tormented home crowd saw their side concede a Marcus Rashford penalty and a precise Anthony Martial strike.

Rashford missed one good chance and struck the bar, while Jesse Lingard and Martial also could have added to United's early haul.

The visitors were as impressive in that period as City were abject, yet Guardiola stood up for his players, who improved as the game went on.

Nicolas Otamendi headed City back into it with five minutes of regulation time to play, and moments later, Riyad Mahrez drew a fine save from David de Gea.

Former Barcelona coach Guardiola said: "We conceded three or four counter-attacks during the first half. They were clinical.

"I am more than happy with our performance. We pushed them, we created chances. In general, I am happy with the performance. There are regrets.

"I know who we are as a team. I am delighted to work with these guys. We tried and tried in the second half. Unfortunately, we scored late and could not turn the result."

As the Christmas season unofficially began on December 1, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked anything but merry.

Manchester United had been held to a 2-2 draw at home by promoted Aston Villa and the Red Devils' performance was utterly rancid for much of the game. Solskjaer appeared helpless at full-time.

Ahead of a particularly bleak run of mid-winter fixtures, reports suggested Solskjaer could join Santa in expecting to be burdened with the sack for Christmas. Two games to save his job, some said, with Mauricio Pochettino looming large.

Those two matches; Jose Mourinho's Tottenham and Manchester City in the derby – it wasn't the sleigh bells that were ringing. 

Some might have been content with two points, yet they've managed to take six and left City's title defence in tatters after a 2-1 win over the champions.

Much of the build-up was dominated by 'we're back' talk among both sets of supporters. City had crushed Burnley comprehensively, while United produced arguably their best display under Solskjaer in a 2-1 win over Tottenham.

Saturday's performance left no such room for argument – it was undoubtedly the greatest of his tenure. 

So much of the Norwegian's time at the helm has been mired by worryingly erratic form – one week they barely manage to salvage a draw against Villa, showing a concerning lack of desire, and then follow that up with a genuinely laudable performance at home to a resurgent Spurs.

Such inconsistency has understandably led to questions over Solskjaer's game-management, with United frequently struggling against opposition that sit back despite boasting a solid record of only two defeats in 11 meetings with 'big-six' opponents and Leicester City before the derby.

Solskjaer did little wrong on Saturday, however.

A devastating first half an hour showed just how good this United team can be, particularly going forward.

The fluid front three of Daniel James, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial was electric, while the much-maligned Jesse Lingard showed the kind of technique and drive not seen from him for a long, long time.

United's strengths are by no means a secret – they are blessed with immense pace in attack and are at their best hitting teams on the counter.

City fell into a trap entirely of United's making.

The midfield pair of Scott McTominay and Fred sat extremely deep, while the front four also dropped well back, essentially becoming a second midfield. As such, the gap between United's defence and attack was often minimal, allowing them to break as a unit.

The dynamism and agility of United's attack was plain to see for both goals – firstly Rashford driving into the box and winning the penalty that he converted, before James and Martial linked for the Frenchman's well-worked goal.

But United's effectiveness was about more than just three players running really, really fast. Defensively they had several players who were imperious.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka dealt with Raheem Sterling impressively, making five tackles and seven clearances in a fine display, while McTominay was similarly impressive. The Scotland international won possession back via three tackles, three interceptions and came out on top in 81.3 per cent of the 16 duels he was involved in.

Added to that, Fred enjoyed his best match for United, creating two chances and showing a general awareness that could rarely be associated with the Brazilian previously. On this evidence, you can begin to understand why Pep Guardiola had been so keen to bring him to City.

City's second-half desperation predictably saw United come under pressure and, for a moment it looked like the Red Devils would yet again cave and throw away a lead after Nicolas Otamendi pulled one back.

But it wasn't to be.

While reservations over Solskjaer's suitability for the role will remain as long as his team continue to falter against teams they should beat, there's no doubt in his ability to squeeze every last drop out of his players in the big games.

And in the biggest of matches, United rose to the occasion to leave City 14 points adrift of the summit, their title hopes torn to shreds like so much festive wrapping paper. 

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